A Bulgarian MEP has demanded an investigation following the emergence of an audio recording of a man who sounds like the country’s prime minister, Boïko Borissov, vowing to “burn” her.
Elena Yoncheva, a former journalist who has been engaged in a campaign to expose government corruption, said the public prosecutor needed to scrutinise the seven-minute recording, which has been heard by more than a million Bulgarians since it was posted anonymously on YouTube and other social media.
Borissov has questioned the authenticity of the tape, which was seemingly recorded in April, by variously suggesting it is “deep fake”, the work of an impersonator and an accumulation of edited clips. He said he would not request an investigation because there was no such thing as bad publicity.
Bulgaria is the most corrupt country in the EU, according to Transparency International, and also the poorest of the 27 member states.
Borissov, who was previously a bodyguard to Bulgaria’s communist leader Todor Zhivkov, has been prime minister for more than 10 years, during which his centre-right government has faced a series of corruption scandals.
Most recently, Borissov himself had to deny allegations of involvement in international money laundering after the Spanish newspaper El Periodicoreported that Catalan police were investigating him over claims first aired by Yoncheva.
In the recording, which was leaked on 12 June, a man who sounds like Borissov is heard discussing party and government business before suggesting he is willing to sacrifice his economics minister, Alexander Manolev, over a recent scandal involving misappropriated EU funds if he can “burn Elena Yoncheva”. Manolev was later charged on suspicion of using EU funds to build himself a mansion.
The recording emerged shortly before photographs were sent to media outlets of Borissov asleep with a gun on his bedside table and a drawer full of cash and gold.
He has conceded that the photo of him sleeping in the prime minister’s residence could be real, but suggested that the image of the money had been superimposed. He has also accused Bulgaria’s president, Rumen Radev, a political rival, of using a drone to take pictures of him. “He has crossed the line,” Borissov said. Radev has dismissed the accusation as fantasy.
Yoncheva, a member of the Bulgarian Socialist party which supports the president, said Bulgaria’s prosecutor’s office should investigate the tape and photographs, but she was not confident that such an investigation would be thorough.
The tape was made before elections to the European parliament in which Yoncheva was standing.
Some Bulgarian media have implicated Yoncheva in the scandal on the basis that a former boyfriend’s father legally received EU funds from the same programme that has led to the charges against a government minister, among others.
Yoncheva said: “I didn’t know him. And I was a journalist at the time so I couldn’t use political influence. But it was during the election campaign for the European parliament, so they tried to use this to defame me.”
She said the scandal highlighted the poor state of governance in Bulgaria. “I am fearful: when you hear the prime minister saying he is going to burn you, of course I have fears.”
She added: “The prime minister didn’t have a clear statement after it was broadcast. He did a long press conference. One minute he is saying it is his voice, then that it is an impersonation, then that it is edited. I believe it is important to have the Bulgarian prosecutor’s office investigate this recording.